A landscape photo of the Grand Canyon, awash in varieties of brown as steep cliffs rise from a deep gorge, covered by a light blue sky with white clouds.

A Beginner’s Guide to Adventure Travel

Beth stands on the edge of a cliff, facing away from the camera, looking out over a deep canyon with a blue river winding along its base.  Beth wears an olive green cardigan, an olive green skirt, and matching olive green knee-high socks with brown boots, and her right hand is holding her wide-brimmed light tan hat on her head while her left hand grasps the edge of her cardigan below her waist.  The scene she surveys is a mix of brown and tan cliffs with occasional green and yellow scrub brush clinging to its sides, most in shade from a setting sun with the tops of the canyons marking a distinct line of brighter sun-drenched stone.  Text in a banner at the top of the photo reads "A Beginner's Guide to Adventure Travel".

You’ve heard the stories of people adventure traveling and coming back with exhilarating tales all about their bucket list adventures. If you’re thinking about your own next adventure, you likely have adventure travel on the brain.

So, what is adventure travel?

It’s all about pushing beyond the known and the comfortable.

Adventure travel entices the curious wanderers, inviting them to explore the most remarkable places and experiences. Whether you’re diving to see an underwater temple in Bali, bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, or whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon, adventure travel will push you outside of your comfort zone and allow you to challenge yourself while experiencing new places and cultures and regions of the world.

It’s not just about the extreme, though. Yes, those kinds of adventures feel a bit like the hallmark of adventure travel, but they don’t define this thrilling travel industry. Adventure travel can be a road trip to the unknown, or a river cruise, or even just immersing yourself in a brand new culture in a brand new world to you.

Keep in mind, though, adventure travel often has a physical aspect to it, which means planning (and especially packing) is so important when partaking in this kind of travel. If you’re dogsledding during a blizzard in Iceland or Zorbing down a hill in New Zealand, baggage will only slow you down.

Why is it a growing industry?

Some analysts believe the adventure travel industry will be a trillion dollar industry by 2030. Think about that: $1,000,000,000,000. With the post-Covid world really being especially adventure-focused, we continue to see an increasing demand for this style of travel.

The traveler of today has so much information at their fingertips. It used to be you flipped through a magazine or watched a nature program to learn more about these unknown adventures. Nowadays, social media shares beautiful, curated photos of luxurious and exciting locations every second of every day. The growing desire to add to your bucket list and go on an adventure is part of the narrative of the current culture.

There is also this aspect of eco-tourism or responsible and sustainable tourism that is often tied to adventure travel that is very attractive to the current traveler. Not just protecting the environment, which is so important, but also being mindful of the social and economic impact of your tourism footprint. With adventure travel being all about an authentic experience at its core, people are even more enticed to participate if they feel their tourism dollars are really making an impact. And not the bad kind. A positive one.

All that being said, adventure travel can feel very intimidating to a beginner, so let’s chat basics.

Determine Your Budget

Just like most travel, you can spend as much or as little as you want. You can go all out and 5 star all the way or you can be a bit more bougie on a budget. The real question is always what do you want to experience and what can you afford? The next most important question – how comfortable are you planning your own travel vs. using a tour operator or travel agent.

Data shows that the average daily cost for adventure travel is around $350 per day. This can generally be lowered if you either plan your own travel or go with lower cost tour options. Be mindful that higher priced all-inclusive options will inevitably have you paying for some things that you don’t value or want or need.

Choose Your Destination

Now that you have an idea of how much you can spend, you need to determine where you want to spend it! If you have a bucket list this is where you comb through it and decide which bucket list item fits your current adventure goals. 

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • When can you travel? What time of year? What season?
  • How much time do you have?
  • Solo, Companion, or Tour travel?
  • What weather works for you?
  • Are you comfortable not speaking the local language?

Once you determine the answers to the above questions, it really helps you narrow down what can feel like an overwhelming list of options to a more focused list of options. If you are still struggling with narrowing it down to that one place, look into travel based communities that align with how you travel and who you are as a traveler, like Her Adventures, which has a Facebook community of women who want to support other women in travel. Put all the information you know that matters to you, like your budget, time of year, etc. and ask if they have recommendations for locations. Do Google searches on your preferred parameters to see what the blogging community has to say.

And don’t forget that once you pick that destination, you need to ask yourself if it aligns with your overall needs. Yes, adventure travel is supposed to get you out of your comfort zone. But you need to also be realistic about what you need to travel.

Pick Your Accommodations

Accommodations can be a tricky one, and also really eat up a large chunk of your budget. This is where really knowing yourself and understanding your own needs will come in handy.

Me? I tend to spend as little as possible on accommodations because I’d rather funnel that money to other experiences. That being said, since I have Lupus and dietary concerns, I will often prioritize Airbnbs and renting homes with kitchens and private bathrooms because I know that those kinds of accommodations better suit my needs. I really like privacy and feeling like I can come and go as I please without disturbing anyone else. That means the less expensive hostels are crossed off the list for me. But it also means all-inclusive five star resorts are crossed off the list, as well.

Determine what you need as a non-negotiable and then find the accommodations that best match those needs. Things to always confirm, if they matter to you: air conditioning, heat, wifi. Don’t alway presume they will be a standard everywhere you go.

Planning & Timing

Now it’s time to really plan this trip and determine the exact dates and times for what you want to do. Even if it’s a more relaxed road trip where you aren’t going to have to hit a super strict schedule, it’s smart to make a game plan so you can ensure you get the most bang for your buck and time. I also always recommend making sure someone from home has access to your itinerary, just in case. This is a safety measure I especially recommend to solo travelers and more beginner travelers.

Additionally, if you are planning specific activities where you need to book in advance, you can potentially find early booking discounts. If you have dietary restrictions or concerns, this is a great opportunity to determine viable eating options for you through your trip, if you need to plan for your own food.

Listen, I’m a planner. So you won’t see as much “fly by the seat of your pants” travel advice from me. I like to plan for as many contingencies as possible, while also understanding that travel, but especially adventure travel, can sometimes require great flexibility because it won’t always go according to plan. So, plan! But also plan for your plans to potentially need to shift last minute.

Pack Smart

I love lots of options while traveling. I believe you can have form and function. I’m also a photographer who regularly travels with 2 DSLRs, 2 Mirrorless cameras, a 360, a GoPro, and a drone. All that being said, though, you need to pack for the trip you’re taking. If you’re going on safari and will be flying on small regional aircraft, you’ll need to pack lighter than if you’re flying to Europe on American and staying at an all-inclusive resort. Or if you’re backpacking through Thailand, well, how much can you really carry?

Being burdened by too much luggage will add a lot of stress to your trip. And so will underpacking and missing necessities. Start your packing list with your non-negotiables. Now determine if there is a more travel friendly way to accommodate those non-negotiables. Next, think about clothing. Research the weather and the clothing needs of any planned activities and make sure you have the essentials. Be mindful of locations that require a specific type of dress based on cultural and religious beliefs. If you are going to need to manage your luggage by yourself most of the time, see if your accommodations have laundry machines or services. I generally choose Airbnb locations with laundry machines so we can wash clothing as needed to help reduce weight.

Know Your Limits

I totally understand that adventure travel is, at its core, about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. But that doesn’t mean you need to be miserable or potentially get hurt. It’s also about exploring and finding joy in the authentic. So be your most authentic self and make sure you’re thinking about your own limitations.

If you’re booking a more extreme experience with a strong physical element, know what you feel comfortable doing. If you have a fear of heights, putting yourself into a high stress travel situation where you need to overcome that fear on a dime might not be the best path to take. Similarly, if you have really bad knees and are choosing an adventure that requires a lot of uphill hiking, or stair climbing, be mindful of what that means for you physically. If you have crowd anxiety and book an experience where you will be at highly touristed areas with crowds of people, be aware that a trip like that may trigger your anxiety.

This isn’t about feeling limited in what you can do. It’s more about properly researching and preparing for the adventure you’re about to take.

Get Travel Insurance

This point is a simple one. Adventure travel will often include an element of the unknown. That is exciting, dangerous, thrilling. But it also means that all the planning in the world might not be enough to prepare you for every possible outcome. Travel insurance is a smart option as a “just in case”.

If you are a more regular traveler, you can look into annual plans, as well.

While you’re at it, check your own insurance policy, if you have one, and determine what kind of coverage, if any, you will have while traveling abroad.

Prioritize Your Health

This should be a no-brainer, but I recognize we all have to hear this at times. Make sure you are focusing and prioritizing your needs while thinking about trips and going on these adventures. That’s not just your physical health, like making sure you adhere to whatever vaccinations are required by your destination or packing the right shoes for your mountaineering. I also mean emotional and mental health.

Pack snacks because food you can eat might not always be around the corner. Take care of your body, especially if you’re participating in extreme physical activities. Stretch, get enough sleep. Compression gear for flying is a go-to for me, since I struggle with a lot of body inflammation issues. Stay hydrated, because dehydration is a common issue while traveling, and can cause a number of challenges with whole body health. Protect your skin and eyes from the elements. And remember, adventure travel doesn’t mean suffering. You can have amazing adventures and still prioritize your comfort.

But most importantly? Have an amazing time. Travel is one of my favorite forms of self-care.

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